Newtown and the Reputation of the Teaching Profession

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP
    Mourners gather for a candlelight vigil at Ram's Pasture to remember shooting victims, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 in Newtown, Conn.

    On a sign in a building in Newtown, Conn. are the words: “Hug a teacher today.” These are words that resonate in many communities in America -- paying tribute to the teachers whose bravery and devotion to their pupils stand out in the wake of the tragedy that took the lives of 20 children and six adults in Newtown.

    The teachers and supervisors who rushed into action to protect their kids and lost their own lives will not be forgotten.

    In recent years, the reputation of the teaching profession has taken a beating.

    Teachers have been accused of malingering, of failing to meet the needs of their students. They have been condemned as inept, interested mainly in making a buck, not in helping their children.

    Late last year, Mayor Bloomberg, in a speech at MIT, said that, if he had the ability
    to re-design the school system, he might cut the teaching force in half and “weed out all the
    bad ones
    .”

    He said he would put highly qualified teachers in front of larger classes -- if funds were limited. He added that to “double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students.”

    Dick Dadey of the reform group Citizens Union told me: “It’s unfortunate that the teacher issue gets lost in a public battle over salaries and costs. The profession is full of dedicated, committed people who want to serve the best interests of the children. And indeed they do. What’s interesting is that their commitment has been made visible by Newtown.”

    A citizen in California wrote to an Orange County newspaper about Newtown that “the loss of five heroic teachers who sacrificed their lives for their students” makes it clear that “we walk beside these heroes every day, not truly appreciating the love and passion they have for our children.” 

    If anything good could be seen to come from the horror at Newtown one thing may be that the teaching profession, which has been denounced by politicians and some educators, has its reputation at least partially restored.

    I spoke to Professor Mary Brabeck, dean of the New York University School of Education. She believes the heroism of the teachers at Newtown is inspiring. But she is pessimistic that the tragedy can enhance the public image of the teaching profession.

    She says research shows that people generally have strong, positive opinions about the schools their own children attend and the teachers who instruct them.

    But, the dean told me, polls show that the opinions people have about teachers in general are not so favorable. They just favor the teachers they know.

    After years of negative campaigning by public officials against the teachers and their unions, something has happened. But, whether it’s enough to reverse the image the profession has is unclear.

    Yet, at least in Newtown and many other places, the words on that sign in the stricken Connecticut community have some relevance: “Hug a teacher today.”